Gordon Parks - Gallery Exhibitions - The Gordon Parks Foundation

Gordon Parks, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama, 1956 

This show—organized by Pace’s Curatorial Director Kimberly Drew—marks the gallery’s first solo presentation of the artist’s work as part of its ongoing partnership with The Gordon Parks Foundation. The exhibition will be complemented by a celebratory summer block party at Pace’s LA gallery on July 13. 

A photographer, filmmaker, composer, and writer, Parks was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, describing himself as “an objective reporter with a subjective heart.” Born in segregated Fort Scott, Kansas in 1912, he was first drawn to photography as a young man when he encountered magazine images of migrant workers produced by the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Though he never received formal photographic training, he would go on to create a body of work documenting American society and culture from the 1940s to the 2000s, focusing in on race relations, poverty, civil rights, and urban life.

“I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs,” Parks once said. “I knew at that point I had to have a camera.”

Following his early work with government agencies—including the FSA and the Office of War Information (OWI)—and the Standard Oil Company, he became the first Black staff photographer for Life magazine in the late 1940s. Covering social issues, fashion, entertainment, and sports, Parks captured iconic images of Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Duke Ellington, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, and others during his two decades at the publication.

The first exhibition dedicated to Parks’s work to be mounted in LA since a 2019 presentation of his Flávio da Silva series at the Getty, Pace’s upcoming show will bring together some 40 photographs spanning four decades of his career, from the early 1940s to the mid 1980s. Organized thematically, these works reflect the empathy and care with which he approached image making and storytelling, creating nuanced, intimate portraits of his subjects’ interior lives and their private spaces as part of that practice.

Highlights in the show include American Gothic, Washington D.C. (1942), an iconic image of Ella Watson, a government employee at the FSA, who poses with a mop and broom against an American flag in the background; Baptism, Chicago, Illinois (1953), one of several photographs on view that speak to Parks’s interest in documenting worship and spirituality within Black communities; and a close-up portrait of Ali from 1966. The exhibition will also include selections from Parks’s Segregation Story—a series of more than 70 color photographs of Black life in segregated America that he created in 1956—as well as a video installation of his short film Diary of a Harlem Family (1967).

This exhibition follows past collaborations between Pace and the Gordon Parks Foundation, including the gallery’s presentation of the artist’s work in several recent group shows—Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes, an online exhibition in 2020, and Studio to Stage in New York in 2022—and on its booth at Frieze LA in 2024. Located in Pleasantville, New York, the Gordon Parks Foundation preserves the work of the artist, making it available to the public through exhibitions, publications, and programs. The foundation—which Parks himself cofounded in 2006— supports artistic and educational activities that advance what he described as "the common search for a better life and a better world."

In recent years, major exhibitions of Parks’s work have been presented at the Museum of Modern Art and Jack Shainman Gallery in New York; the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Getty Museum in LA; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; and other institutions around the world.

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